|Patrick Walters, National security editor | October 29, 2008
AUSTRALIA will join the US in developing a new generation of protected light army vehicles, which will provide troops with far better protection against the ever-growing threat posed by roadside bombs.
The army is also to get an extra 81 upgraded M113 armoured personnel carriers at a cost of $220million.
The land force is now well on the way to implementing a $4.6billion overhaul of its vehicle fleet with the key focus on protecting soldiers from the potent threat posed by roadside bombs and other high explosive devices.
Over the next decade the army will acquire under the Land 121 project about 7000 new vehicles and trailers, ranging from station wagons to heavy trucks.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is expected to announce today that Defence will join the technology demonstration phase of the US Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program by which the Pentagon plans to replace more than 60,000 Humvee vehicles in the US army and marine corps from 2012.
The threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has prompted a rethink by the US and its allies on how best to transport and protect troops in combat zones.
Both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have exposed the inadequate design of older technology trucks and vehicles in the face of increasingly powerful new IEDs being used by insurgents.
The JLTV program that Australia will join is planned to provide a more survivable and versatile light vehicle which can carry a greater payload.
For the Australian army the new light mobility vehicles
will perform combat support roles including command, liaison and light battlefield resupply.
Mr Fitzgibbon says a final decision on whether Australia will acquire the JLTV will be made once the vehicles have passed key development and testing milestones in 2010.
Through the program Australia and the US will invest heavily in new materials and technologies which will give the best possible protection for troops on combat operations.
Mr Fitzgibbon says that should the JLTV be selected, there would be opportunities for Australian industry to manufacture vehicle trailers as well as providing maintenance support for the new fleet.
The Defence Materiel Organisation today will formally sign a $350million contract with Mercedes-Benz to supply 1200 new G-wagons, a two-tonne all-terrain vehicle, which will partly replace the existing Land Rover fleet. The M113 upgrade is already delivering 350 upgraded vehicles and the extra 81 M113s will be delivered to the army's newly raised battalion, 7 RAR, and 5 RAR, another mechanised infantry battalion currently based in Darwin.
The DMO has also signed a new contract for an additional 293 Bushmaster vehicles for the army which will lift the planned production run to 737 vehicles.
Special Operations Command troops, the SAS and commandos can expect to be driving an altogether new vehicle, the British-made Supacat -- named the Nary in Australia in honour of Warrant Officer David Nary, who died during a Middle East pre-deployment operation in 2005. Eight Nary trial vehicles are on schedule for a handover to the Special Air Service Regiment in November.
Special forces have been allocated 31 new Nary patrol vehicles, which will replace the SASR's fleet of ageing Long Range Patrol Vehicles.